Gas Stoves Dangerous For Kids, Study Suggests
A new study has found that 40 million personal gas ovens and ranges are a not-inconsequential source of methane production. Here's why that matters.
A new study just solved one of climate science’s biggest mysteries — where is all that methane coming from?
For years, scientists have been boggled by an apparent gap in known methane sources and the amount of methane heating up the Earth.
While it’s been known for some time that the primary sources of methane are the natural gas industry, livestock operations, and landfills, those sources don’t fully account for the amount of methane that accumulates every year in the atmosphere.
As one of the most potent greenhouse gases, researchers have been eager to discover the mysterious extra source of the invisible gas.
Gas Stoves Leak Methane
To solve this mystery, researchers decided to take a look closer to home—namely, gas-powered ovens. Found in more than 40 million homes across the U.S., gas ovens and ranges are a not-inconsequential source of methane production because, as it turns out, they leak methane not only when they’re in use but also when burners are turned off.
For the new study, researchers examined 53 homes, rental properties, and Airbnbs across California and found that gas stoves were the unexpected culprit. Using specialized equipment that measures the wavelength of light to determine the amount of certain gasses present, the study authors were surprised to find that close to 75% of the methane leakage from gas stoves came when the unit was turned off.
Over the course of a year, gas stoves in the U.S. will leak enough methane to have a climate impact compared to the amount of carbon dioxide that 500,000 cars emit over a year, according to the study.
Methane, in large quantities, can displace oxygen in the environment, causing respiratory difficulties. But study co-author Eric Lebel, Ph.D., told Fatherly that the amount of methane that’s likely collected in your home isn’t enough to cause any health concerns for your or your children. “We aren’t concerned so much about methane concentrations in the home, particularly at the concentrations that would be produced from the leaks we saw in this study,” Lebel said.
Methane is, however, combustible in high quantities. “There is a safety hazard associated with methane as it can explode when the concentration gets too high. This is why gas companies add a sulfur compound to the gas to give it that rotten egg smell, so you can smell it. If you ever smell gas in your house, it is important to get it checked out right away.”
Nitrogen Dioxide in the Home is More Dangerous than Methane
The study authors also tested for another greenhouse gas—nitrogen dioxide—which poses more immediate health concerns than methane. “We also measured nitrogen dioxide, which is a respiratory irritant and is emitted by the gas stove while it is in use,” Lebel said.
“We found that nitrogen dioxide is emitted in direct proportion to the amount of gas being burned. So if you turn a burner up, use a bigger burner, or light an additional burner, you will generate more nitrogen dioxide.”
A 2017 study found that cooking on gas burners can increase indoor nitrogen dioxide concentrations beyond what the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe levels for outdoor air.
Nitrogen dioxide can exacerbate chronic respiratory conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and may even cause asthma in children, according to reporting by NPR.
Should You Ditch Your Gas Stove?
Cooking with gas can be a hard habit to break—many people with gas ovens and ranges swear by them and dread the thought of returning to electric cooktops and ovens. However, the switch may not be entirely necessary from an indoor air quality point of view.
A 2021 study covered by Fatherly suggested that the best thing to do is to use the exhaust hood if you have one every time you light a burner, and, if you can afford it, to switch to an electric stove, points echoed by Lebel.
“If your stove has reached the end of its life and you are planning to get a new stove anyway, electric stoves are typically better for indoor air quality and for the climate, depending on whether your electricity is sourced from renewable energy (which is rapidly growing),” Lebel said.
“For the reasons presented in this paper and other studies, electric stoves also make sense in new construction. However, if you have a functional gas stove and don’t have the financial means to replace it, it’s not necessary to immediately replace it; just be sure to use the vent hood if you have one every time you ignite a burner.”